“I love you but you are being so irresponsible.”
“I love you but I am sick and tired of asking you to pick up your stuff.”
“I love you but you have got to bring your grades up.”
“I love you but you are acting completely helpless.”
“I love you but I don’t have to put up with the way you talk to me.”
How many times have we said these words (or words like them) to our children? We say we love our kids unconditionally, but when we express our disappointment in their choices, we do it by qualifying our love.
A good friend who is a therapist once told me that whenever we say the word “but” we are saying: “The thing I just said isn’t entirely true, so disregard it. The real message is what follows the word ‘but’.”
Uh-oh. So when we say, “I love you but your behavior is very disappointing to me.” that means we are saying “It’s not entirely true that I love you. The real truth of the matter is that you are a disappointment. When you stop being a disappointment to me I will really love you.“
Which means that we are saying that contrary to our TRUE FEELINGS of unconditional love, our words are expressing that our love is qualified on the condition of our children correcting the source of disappointment (which, by the way will inspire two possible behaviors in your kids: 1. Fix the behavior out of fear of disappointing you and losing your love or 2. Persisting in the behavior as a way of making your prove your love is unconditional) “I love you but … ” is not how you really feel, I know. So let’s figure out how to say what you really feel.
Using the words “I love you but .. ” is just a bad habit that can be corrected. And it can be corrected by changing that simple, treacherous word,”but” to another word. That word is “AND”.
As in “I love you AND . . . “
As in “I love you AND I care about your happiness, and taking on responsibility and seeing it through is a way people will grow to trust you. Having long term trusting relationships is a great source of happiness.”
As in “I love you AND I enjoy relaxing with you and it is easier for all of us to relax when the house is picked up.”
As in “I love you AND I want you to feel proud of the work you do. I also want you to have opportunities ahead of you — and working hard to get grades that reflect your real capabilities is how you will feel proud and have those opportunities.”
As in “I love you AND I know you have the strength and the intelligence to figure this out.”
As in “I love you AND I want the words that we speak to each other truly reflect the love and respect we feel for one another.”
Sure, it takes longer to formulate. And yes, you really have to think about what you say before you say it. You may even struggle to make the statement work. But isn’t it worth a few extra second to clarify for yourself WHY certain behaviors are important to your child’s long-term happiness and success in life? Isn’t it important to take a few extra second to make clear to your child why what you are asking is not a limitation of your love, but an extension of it?
Remember “but” puts conditions on the real love you feel. “And” extends and clarifies it.
I know taking on new habits can be a challenge …. AND because it will increase and extend the power of the love you share with your child, I am certain it is worth your time.